Let’s Talk About…Normality

When normality is shaken, so too are productivity and performance, reminds Davina Greene.

Normality is important. No matter how wild or adventurous we consider ourselves to be, when a shock happens, we need something to cling to – something secure, something predictable.

We have learned a lot in recent times about how “normal” we like our world to remain. For a while, our usual going-to-work process changed – we sat at home, perhaps able to continue with our day-jobs, perhaps not. For those who could, some loved it, some prayed for remote working to end. ‘Different strokes…’, as always.

If you were lucky enough to be able to work from home, perhaps what you had thought of as a trusting, high-performing team looked very different from that new vantage point. Did the smooth flow of work and communication hit some speed bumps? Did people begin to lose faith that every team member was actually doing work each day? Did excessive meetings work their way into your diary so that people could keep an eye on each other…and, as a result, if you are back in the office now, has the mood changed a bit? It’s amazing how a seemingly strong team can unravel quite quickly.

To maintain momentum in getting a team back on track and reaching peak productivity again, it is important to understand team dynamics. Tuckman’s four-stage Team Development process is a key Management standard and, whether you are responsible for a team or simply part of a team, now seems a good time to allow it to give us a reality-check.

Picture a team being built from scratch. The first 10 arrive – they are a bit unsure; they sniff around each other for a while, deciding who looks trustworthy, who looks fun, who seems knowledgeable… They have a bit of a chat here, a bit of a chat there, and gradually settle into a few subgroups, decide how to interact with each other, and do their initial gelling. In short, they “form” as a group.

Now, they have the confidence to throw ideas around, to yay or nay, to push and pull. Some thrive in this space; some, less so. Nonetheless, information is exchanged, directly, or indirectly – maybe successfully, maybe with some fall-out. This is Storming.

Next, they “norm”. The best of everything said so far should rise to the surface, the various personalities having played out even further, making clearer who’s who and what’s what – they get the first glimpse of what their actual ongoing work-life is going to look like. Only then arises the opportunity to focus and excel – that is, the opportunity to really start Performing.

After some settling, the next 10 people arrive. What happens? Gatecrash! The entire group, old and new, has to work its way through the model again to reach the performance levels you require, finding a way of working together.  And that’s the case even without a work-from-home, pandemic situation being thrown into the mix at all.

What to do when these changes happen? Minimize and focus, using my favourite five Key Behaviours.

Employ your Perspective and Resilience: if you see Forming, Storming and Norming happening for the next few months, let it happen. Nothing has “gone wrong”, it’s just an organic fix happening right before your eyes. Observe (you know, sometimes a group of adults can work things out for themselves!), help tweak, and ensure Communication. Show Humanity to both yourself and any strugglers.

Finally, let Responsibility drive you to look back, gather data and, for example, form a firm opinion on Remote Working. Who knows what may happen next? Be ready to have your say about what any New Normal should be.

Form-Storm-Norm-Perform is entirely normal. Recognise your team’s stage to minimise your concerns.